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Bush, President Yar'Adua Discuss Nigeria Election Reforms

President Bush says he believes Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua is committed to electoral reforms following a vote that was widely criticized by local and international observers. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, the two leaders met Thursday in the Oval Office for talks that included African peacekeeping.

President Bush says he is impressed by President Yar'Adua's commitment to electoral reform.

"The president is committed to democracy and rule of law," said Mr. Bush. "He was very articulate in his desire to make sure that the people of Nigeria understand that their government will be fair and transparent and will be a government of the people."

Nigeria's Supreme Court has refused to throw out a lawsuit seeking to nullify President Yar'Adua's April election. A rival candidate is challenging the election results, which observers describe as deeply flawed due to widespread instances of fraud, intimidation, and disorganization.

The Bush administration has told the government in Abuja that it expects legal challenges to that election to be heard without political interference. Courts have already overturned the results of five state governor elections.

But there was no public criticism of the election at the White House Thursday with President Bush congratulating President Yar'Adua for being a strong leader.

The Nigerian president says he is determined to uphold democracy, fight corruption, and develop a free market economy by building on past economic reforms.

"I have briefed Mr. President on the situation in Nigeria, our efforts to anchor democracy on the rule of law, to have a credible electoral process, and to ensure that the principles of justice and equity will guide the conduct of affairs in Nigeria, transparency, accountability, and the fight against corruption," said Mr. Yar'Adua.

President Yar'Adua says Nigeria is grateful for American support, confidence, and trust.

"This will set the principles upon which we will build and develop a free society capable of growing an economy that will cater for the developmental needs of the people of Nigeria," he added.

President Yar'Adua says Nigeria will partner with a new U.S. military command for Africa that is expected to become fully operational by next October. That command is designed to help support African security initiatives, including what the Nigerian leader says is a plan to have a stand-by brigade of African peacekeepers in each of the continent's economic blocs.

The two men also discussed U.S. efforts to improve education and health care in Nigeria. Mr. Bush says Mr. Yar'Adua is strongly committed to improving treatment for victims of HIV/AIDS and Malaria.

"He understands that there needs to be a comprehensive program of prevention, the distribution of anti-retrovirals and then a capacity to help the orphans who have been left behind as a result of this terrible disease," said Mr. Bush.

The White House says President Bush will travel to Africa in February to discuss U.S. funding for improvements in health care and economic reform. There is no word yet on which countries he will visit.